Investing in the Future of American Agriculture
January 21, 2022
We recently announced that RMA is funding $2 million for our Risk Management Education Program this year. These funds will be awarded to organizations, such as universities and nonprofits among others, to provide Risk Management training to historically underserved producers, organic growers, specialty crop and livestock operations, new and beginning farmers, and others. We will also fund training that emphasizes climate smart solutions that improve the profitability and resilience of producers.
Last year we relaunched our education program after a three-year break. The response from our partners was wonderful and there has been no shortage of interest. These funds are put to great use, and it is an invaluable investment in the future of American agriculture. We expect many organizations to apply for funding from this year’s opportunity.
One of our current Risk Management Education partners is Washington State University. The school’s Food System Program is delivering an eight-week course on farm financial management that includes modules on cash flow, finances, enterprise budgets, labor and insurance management, as well as use of financial management software.
I had a chance to talk with Program Director, Laura Lewis, Associate Professor of Community and Economic Development. A native of Seattle, she has an impressive background that includes two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, a research technician for the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Program, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. For the past 15 years she has been an agricultural researcher, focused on empowering diverse and equitable food systems.
Marcia: Thank you for taking a moment to talk to us. We’re so glad we relaunched our Risk Management Education Program in 2021 to support projects like yours at WSU and we’ll continue funding education projects around the country this year.
Laura: We have been hoping to develop this advanced course for several years and this funding will help us get to the finish line!
Dr. Laura Lewis, Director, WSU Food System Program
Marcia: We appreciate your team’s efforts educating producers. The risks they face not only include natural disasters, but volatile markets and financial risks. It looks like your course speaks to that.
Laura: Farming is one of the riskiest businesses on the planet. There are so many aspects of food production that are out of the farmers control, so providing resources and education to mitigate financial risk is a high priority. We’re excited about RMA funding to expand our Cultivating Success program with additional curricula on advanced financial management for small enterprise food and farm businesses across Washington. Since 2020, we have been offering Cultivating Success online, provide English and Spanish options, with breakout discussions tailored for regional networking. We have reached audiences beyond our state and look forward to providing additional content to help manage financial risk for producers and food entrepreneurs.
Marcia: What are one or two aspects of the training you will provide that are critical to your students?
Laura: The most critical aspect of developing an advanced financial management curriculum is the opportunity to do a deep dive with producers on the nuances of farm and food business management and growth. In our Cultivating Success, participants develop a basic farm business plan and are introduced to enterprise budgets. This class takes a deeper look at the business plan, enterprise budgets, and profit and loss statements.
Marcia: What impact do you think this course will have for producers in your area?
Laura: New and beginning farmers and ranchers will have online access to university developed extension education on risk management through financial literacy, a network of experts to work with and producer/participant cohorts to continue mentoring and networking beyond the class experience.
I’m thankful to Laura for taking time to talk to us about WSUs project. More than 400 farmers and ranchers, many from underserved communities and those new to farming, will benefit from the courses her team has put together.
We can’t wait to see the new proposals submitted from organizations this year.